Palestinian Affairs: The imprint of regime change

Most Palestinians did not believe their leaders who called claims of corruption "Jewish propaganda."

ismail hanieh 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
ismail hanieh 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
'How do you say fasad in English?" Ayman Natsheh shouted to his friends when a group of foreign reporters in Ramallah asked him why Hamas had won Wednesday's parliamentary election. "The word is corruption," one of the friends shouted back. "Tell them it's because of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority." Nastheh, who works as an engineer at the al-Bireh Municipality, had just emerged from the Ain Mosque in the city when he and many worshipers learned that Hamas had scored a landslide victory. "I don't belong to Hamas, but I voted for them because I was fed up with the bad government we had here for 12 years," he later explained. "Most people here voted for Hamas because they wanted regime change, and not because they support suicide attacks or the destruction of Israel."
Many Palestinians said they could not understand why the rest of the world was surprised by the Hamas victory. In their eyes, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. But the international community and the foreign media simply saw neither the writing nor the wall. For years, Palestinians have been complaining about bad governance and the embezzlement of international aid by their leaders. In fact, the complaints started almost immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the return of the PLO from Tunis to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the beginning, most Palestinians were convinced that Yasser Arafat and the ruling Fatah party would do their utmost to establish a free and democratic regime, one that would put the right man in the right place and invest funds for the welfare of the people. But the Palestinians' hopes were quickly shattered as they watched a corrupt and dictatorial regime emerge in Ramallah and Gaza City. Many of the PLO leaders who returned with Arafat started building grand villas next to the homes of impoverished Palestinians and driving around in Mercedes that were brought with the money that came from American and European donors. Arafat cronies like Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub were transformed into wealthy figures almost overnight with the help of security forces that served as private militias. Other Fatah leaders saw the Oslo Accords as an excellent opportunity for establishing monopolies that caused grave damage to the Palestinian economy. The result was that Palestinians had to pay more for cigarettes, petrol and basic goods. The Oasis Casino in Jericho was only one of the symbols of rampant corruption, because it was seen as a joint venture of Israeli and Palestinian officials to pump more money into their secret bank accounts. THE RESULTS of the election show that a majority of the Palestinians did not believe their leaders when they vehemently dismissed allegations of corruption as "Jewish propaganda." Palestinian officials often held Israel responsible for their failure to improve the conditions of their own people, claiming that Israel had been systematically undermining the PA through a series of security measures. When asked why they were doing nothing to end the state of lawlessness and anarchy, these officials often pointed an accusing finger at Israel, saying it had "destroyed" the Palestinian security forces over the past five years. This is another claim that most Palestinians did not accept, especially as they saw about 60,000 policemen cast their ballots in this week's election. The departure of Arafat from the scene provided a golden opportunity for Hamas and other opposition groups to finally raise their voices to demand real regime change and an end to corruption. The infighting that erupted in Fatah in the aftermath of Arafat's death also served as a catalyst for all those who wanted to get rid of all the bad guys that Arafat left behind. By Wednesday afternoon it had already become evident that the Palestinians were headed toward regime change. Hamas's green flags and banners were all over the place, while Fatah's yellow symbols were almost absent from the streets. For every three taxis ferrying Hamas voters to polling stations, there was only one Fatah taxi - and even then it was not full of passengers. "This is an historic day for the Palestinians," said Juma'ah Mahmoud, who was among the group of bearded men who had just finished praying at the al-Bireh mosque. "We are very happy because we finally got rid of all the corrupt people in the Palestinian leadership. Most of these guys came from Tunis as beggars and became very rich by stealing our money and living in big houses. Now we have proved to them and the rest of the world that our people don't want them." When asked about the future of the peace process, Mahmoud and his friends burst out laughing. "Which peace process are you talking about?" they chuckled sarcastically. "The peace process and the Oslo Accords died a long time ago. Oslo is finished and so are all the corrupt guys who came from Tunis."